According to Steve Betts, senior vice president and CIO at Health Care Service Corp. (HCSC), a health insurance provider in Chicago, despite all the negative headlines associated with the shadow IT phenomenon, it really isn’t a problem, as long as the right relationships are in place.
In a recent interview stemming from Betts’s participation in Deloitte’s 2016-2017 Global CIO Survey, I raised the topic of shadow IT, expecting Betts to offer advice to his peers on how to squelch it. So you can imagine my surprise when he seemed to welcome it:
The days of demonizing shadow IT, I think, are well behind us. There is an increasing convergence between solving business problems, and technology. So technology leaders need to be business knowledgeable, but business leaders need to have technology capability also. When you look at the newer generations coming into the work force, they’re highly tech-enabled. And to tell them, “Hands off, just give us your requirements and we’ll go code it,” I think those days are behind us, and I think it’s the wrong perspective to try and stop shadow IT. I actually encourage technology capability in our business units and, again, look for that strong partnership.
Betts did, however, add a caveat to all of that:
Now, that said, there are some things that we have to do one way, and there are other areas where we can be much more flexible. So when I think about the customer journey — what our members experience, and all of their interactions with HCSC — we need to be mindful of that in a very holistic way. We can’t introduce tangent interactions out of context there. So one of my lines in the sand is, we can build this, but let’s understand it in the context of the journey. And then on the other end of the spectrum, we have established a digital enablement layer, which is basically an API layer, that sits on top of our back-end systems. That lets us develop digital solutions at the speed of digital, rather than at the speed of the back-end systems. When we’re accessing the data, we drive that through the digital enablement layer. So there’s a future architecture consistency line, and there’s a customer experience line. And then within that, I’m very flexible in terms of how the solutions are developed, and I encourage our business areas to explore solutions, and then through those strong relationships, we partner on the delivery.
If I was surprised by Betts’s shadow IT response, I was even more surprised when I researched the senior leadership team at HCSC, and learned that the top three executives in the company are female. Those execs are Paula Steiner, president and CEO; Colleen Reitan, EVP and president of plan operations; and Karen Atwood, EVP of service and technology, to whom Betts reports. When I mentioned that, Betts said that he and his colleagues are very proud of HCSC’s diversity in general:
The fact that we have a significant number of female leaders is distinctive. To me, it just represents a healthy environment, where we’re promoting the most capable individual. The most important thing to me is that my leadership — Karen, Paula, Colleen, and others — really understand the value part of the equation for technology. Most of the conversations that we have are around the opportunity before us, and the role that technology needs to play, which is the partnership that you need to have to be successful, and certainly one that I personally was looking for and was a big part of why I came here in the first place. I’m personally involved very closely with our diversity program; I’m board chair at an organization called Lumity, which is promoting STEM in underserved youth, with a focus on diverse communities. It’s a big part of who we are as an organization, and I think it’s a plus. It comes down to that technology savvy, and awareness of the role of technology, from the business strategy perspective, being the most important thing.
I wrapped up the conversation by raising yet another topic that I found surprising. Referring back to Deloitte’s Global CIO Survey, I mentioned to Betts that I found it interesting that when asked about their top three business priorities, only 35 percent of the respondents listed innovation as one of their top three priorities, compared to 45 percent in 2015. I asked Betts what he made of that, and he said it surprised him, too:
Certainly I’m not in that category — innovation is certainly important to me. For example, we established an incubator here, the HCSC incubation platform, that is within my team, but is a business incubator that’s fueled by IT. We have a number of initiatives that are going through that incubator — it’s a very structured process that we go through. We’re looking for volume, [pulling the plug] where necessary, and then incubating and accelerating those that we feel have potential. We’re doing that internally, and also working closely with organizations like MATTER here in Chicago, which is a health care incubator that we have a relationship with.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.